$1MM house rule

Noe Valley, SF Home
Victorian in Noe Valley SF, sold for $2.5MM, photo by Open Home photography

Here’s the new rule. If you buy or own a house that’s worth $1MM, it *must* have a toilet with a washlet (aka bidet).

$1,000,000 has to mean something. Used to be a house had a $1MM view and those houses exist and those houses are probably worth $1MM because of that view/size/architecture/finishes.

Now, $1MM homes, especially in the Bay Area, are just houses — maybe 2 bedrooms and 1 bath, maybe in a generally ok neighborhood, maybe recently renovated, maybe near BART. None of those things combined or separate are enough to justify a $1MM price tag – ever. So install a toilet/washlet where you can at least say for your $1MM house, you have a toilet that washes your ass for you.

Don’t even need to buy the most expensive toilet/washlet combo out there, a cheap $250 washlet will suffice. You don’t even have to use it. It’s the idea that matters.

See here/below for a decent toilet/washlet #lifegoals, #iwantone

toilet/washlet pic
Carlyle® II 1G Connect+™ S350e One-Piece Toilet – 1.0 GPF

thoughts on solar panels (again)

Sunpower and Tesla/Panasonic seem to have the best solar panels with over 300 watts and 20% efficiency. Next gen solar panels may reach 45% and even greater efficiency still after those go to market (w/ in next 5-10 years?).

The problem for us is still breakeven. We’re low in our electric consumption, about 250kWh per month on average. We’re usually under 300kWh and sometimes even under 200kWh during the summer. That usage comes out to be $500 a year on electrical (even with PG&E raising prices/price gouging after the San Bruno pipeline explosion) .

$500 a year on electrical with a 7 year breakeven point means the cost of the solar system that makes sense would have to be $3,500 total. Even extended to a 10 year breakeven, we’re looking at $5,000. The cost of a 2kW system is roughly $9,600 ($7,000 after incentives). For 2.5kW it would cost $11,500 ($8,000 after incentives). So, we are getting closer on price but we’re probably still a good 10 years away because the cost isn’t just in the solar panels, it’s mostly the labor for installation.

Cost of one panel is around $300 – $350. We need about 6-8 of them which is about $3,000. The rest of the material costs are the railings, converters, wiring so another $1,000 or less. This DIY solar system kit is about $4,300, if I was super handy, this kit could be an option.

Anyhow, won’t be surprised if we start seeing 500kWh panels at 40-50% efficiency which means all we’ll need are four panels to power up the house and that’ll probably happen within the next 5 years. It could even be 1000kWh panels and all we’ll need are two panels. That would aesthetically (to our roof line) be pretty nice.

In any case, we’re still a no go for solar panels because our breakeven just isn’t there– enough so that Tesla/Solar City and others won’t even bother to come out. But I have a feeling a 500kWh panel w/ 45% efficiency at $200 a panel isn’t too far away. Then we’ll be at $3,500 for a fully installed system sooner than later, *if* we can find someone to do the install.

cork floors


I installed some cork floors in our condo at Kirkwood this year (kitchen last year, living room and dining room this year). We bought the panels from Ecohome Improvement. The cork floors are manufactured by Qu-Cork (Carina) and it was a lot easier to install that I thought. Didn’t turn out too badly. Now we have to see how well they’ll last given the foot traffic of snowboard boots and ski boots.

evaluating solar panels

As much as we want a solar panel system for our house, they’re still not currently priced where it makes economic sense for us — solar panel systems are still too expensive for the amount of energy that we use. I’m hung up on solar because they’re really cool and it just feels like the right thing to do (invest in). But it’s really hard to justify given their current expense.

We received a quote a couple years ago for 16 175 Watt, BP solar panels which would generate 3,529 kWh a year or 294 kWh a month average. We fluctuate between 170 to 360 kWh but we usually stay under 300 kWh a month and average in the 240-250 kWh range for the year. Homes of our size are in the 400 to 600 kWh range so an average of 500 kWh.

On the finances side, we’re looking at $36 a month electricity bill or $440 for the year. The cost estimate for a 16 panel solar system was $20,000 which would go down to $14,000 after the state rebate and Federal tax credit.

I like 7 – 10 year break evens which would mean the cost of the solar panel system would have to be in the $3,000-$4,000 range which is in the range of installing an HVAC system or tankless hot water system so not far fetched that one day it’ll be this cheap to install. The $14,000 is about $10,000 more than we could financially justify. From a “save the earth” perspective, our efforts to continue to conserve energy (LED lights, insulation, programmable thermostat, efficient windows, efficient appliances) is still the better way to go.

It’s possible that we’ll increase our electricity usage and of course we’re at risk for electrical rate increases, but at this time solar panels still need to go down in price unless we make it a DIY project and buy and install solar panels ourselves. For $3,000, DIY would make sense. Given the interest in solar companies though, solar panel systems will get cheaper as more panels are available and made cheaper and more companies are available to install them.

Some links:

LED light bulbs

LED light bulbs like the one above are cool.  The one we got is 2.5W and it’s equivalent to a 45W incandescent light bulb.  There are 7 led lights inside that power the thing.  LED lights should be what we all move to but the investments made in cfls (contains mercury, higher wattage) has everyone buying cfls first.  LED lights are already showing up in street lights and will also get more popular in car head lights.  They’re also great in flashlights.

We’re using one of the LED bulbs for the porch light, one over a vanity as a night light, and one other for my end table– so high use areas that need just enough light.  The lights are a bit expensive and the brighter ones even moreso.  But the ones we got should last a long, long time.  And at 2.5W, can’t really complain there.

The rest of the house we’re using 7W to 13W compact fluorescent bulbs.

We also need (and on the lookout for) 3-way LED or CFL bulbs for lamps.  The 3-way CFLs that are out now are way too big to fit in a lamp.

We’re figuring, in lieu of solar panels, we can reduce the amount of electricity we use by having efficient appliances and lighting, turning off our electrical equipment when not in use, and insulating the house.  Google has several more good energy saving tips.


* I’m in a bit of a writer’s funk.  Maybe the WordCamp this Saturday will get me out of it.  I’ve got a few more posts on products in general and then the rest of the year will be focused on work related stuff with hopefully some updates on a bathroom remodel once we get started at the end of June.

IQAir air purifier

My parents got one of these whole home IQAir air purifiers installed in their house.  I like IQAir’s room air purifiers too, e.g. the HealthPro Plus — looks like it’s won some awards and both the whole house and in-room purifiers are probably worth a look if you’ve got health issues.  I guess these are what they’ve been installing in homes for the Extreme Makeover Home Edition shows.

I like radiant heating systems the best (which we don’t have and don’t plan on doing for our house) because they’re the most efficient and provide the best type of heat, but it doesn’t help when it’s hot and you need an air conditioner.  For most people, forced air heating and cooling system is best and might as well check out the IQAir purifier while you’re at it.

energy check list

There are a couple of cool energy check lists to look at:

We had a $1200 energy bill last year, about 50/50 electric to gas.  Unfortunately this was an increase of 20% over last year, we increased our usage by 20% :-(  However, the average energy bill for a household in the US is $1900 – $2000 a year.

Our usage was about 4500 kwh and 415 therms in 2008 and going to use this as baseline going forward.

For PG&E customers, all this information is available online.

The goal is to decrease usage and costs by 20 – 25% next year and 50% in 5 years.


Infrastructure things we had already done:

  • Energy star appliances (heater/air conditioner, dishwasher, refrigerator, washer/dryer) though our dryer is now electric versus gas
  • CFLs with most of our lighting except three way lamps, led under cabinet lighting, and “candle” type lights in the living room
  • Insulated floors
  • Double pane windows

Things to do:

  • Insulate attic and install attic fan
  • Research insulation for exterior walls
  • home energy audit
  • Continue evaluating use of solar panels and tankless water heating

Sunrise Specialty – clawfoot tubs

Our last major home improvement for our very simple 2 bedroom 1 bath home in Oakland is the bathroom.  When we bought the house, the bathroom and kitchen were new but done very cheaply.  We remodeled the kitchen last year, and we did landscaping the year before that.

We’re going stay in the same style and period for our bathroom remodel which is a bungaloid — a house kind of like a Crafstman style bungalow but not exactly.  We’re going to with a 54″ clawfoot tub from Sunrise Specialty in Oakland.  We’ll probably go with wainscotting, a basketweave tile floor, a Toto toilet, and we have to replace the sink, vanity, and window.  We may redo the drywall and add insulation.

Sunrise Specialty only sells to dealers and so we’ll probably get our tub and all the fittings from Acorn Kitchen and Bath in Oakland or Omega Salvage (super cool place) in Berkeley.  The tub will run a little over $2,000 new.  The fittings will run another $1,000.

We hope to start work in June and get everything done as soon as possible.

kitchen remodel update

Granite countertops and stainless steel appliances…Not exactly.  More like paper countertop and black appliances.

We got the backsplash installed this weekend.  It’s an Oceanside recycled glass tile (creme brulee).  We’re getting cork floors from WeCork installed later this month, we need to install some hardware on the cabinets, paint the refrigerator, update the lighting and maybe paint.  And then we’re all done.  Maybe, possibly.  Earlier this year I said we’d be done by end of March.  Oops.

Almost after (once we install the floors and cabinet hardware)

This is a Blue Star range with convection oven and 22,000 BTU burners upfront.  The hood is a Vent-A-Hood.  The countertop is Paperstone.  Our cabinets were in the house when we bought it.  It’s Timberlake from American Woodmark, the Tahoe Oak Honey via Home Depot.